By Carmen Berkley
One year ago our sister’s son Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri by one of our brothers on the local police force. The tragedy of Michael Brown’s death was full of complexities regarding race and racism and we as a labor movement knew we had to confront those complexities head on.
As the Ferguson community was reeling in the wake of Michael Brown’s death, labor worked to listen to community leaders, provide support for the October march calling for criminal justice reform, and participate in neighborhood meetings. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka came to Ferguson to meet with local labor leaders about the situation and delivered a difficult speech about labor’s role in building communities that are not only economically sound but also racially cohesive. But addressing the causes of Michael Brown’s death is going to take more work than just marching and listening.
When the people in a town like Ferguson erupt into protests over racial disparities, the layers of inequality leading to that moment are generations in the making.Over the years police forces across the United Sates have been increasingly militarized, public education has received less and less funding, and attacks on voting rights have created a voting base that lacks the information they need about jobs, housing and raising wages for all, not just the wealthy few at the top.
The labor movement, America’s workers who drive the buses, build the roads and lay the foundations of our cities must be united.
We will confront racism within our own movement directly which is why earlier this year, the members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council created a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to explore racial and economic disparities within the labor movement itself.It’s clear the labor movement has been desperate for this discussion, with its inaugural town hall being standing room only. And that is only the beginning.
Groups like the Black Lives Matter movement and Not 1 More, born out of the events in Ferguson, are striving to shed light on the issues of criminal justice reform and institutional bias in policing. Labor remains supportive of the movement and has joined in on the work. Members of the AFL-CIO Civil, Human, and Women’s Rights Department have been on ground in St. Louis training local formerly incarcerated union members on the labor movement’s Common Sense Economics mass incarceration program. The training offers people a history of incarceration practices in the United States and outlines the devastating effects mass incarceration has on communities of color.
As we continue to honor the memory of Michael Brown one year on, we must also continue to have these face to face conversations. We need to commit to be out in our communities, breaking the isolation and fighting back against racism in solidarity. That’s how we all win.
Civil, Human & Women's Rights Director
Thought Leader, Strategist, Change Agent, Lytle is a newspaper journalist turned NAACP Freedom Fighter and CO MT WY State Conference President. She was elected Chair of Midwest Region IV for the NAACP 105th Annual Convention. Rosemary first joined the organization at age 16 after winning an Essay Contest sponsored by the Gary Branch NAACP. For 8 years, she served as President of the NAACP Colorado Springs Branch. In December, she was appointed to the NAACP President & CEO Search Committee which selected Dr. Cornell William Brooks. Her hot topics: criminal justice reform -- including death penalty abolition & community re-entry for those previously incarcerated, labor & economic justice, climate action, ending the educational achievement gap, LGBTQ equality, health equity, voting rights, ending discrimination in all its forms.